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We see Jesus making his post-resurrection apparition before the disciples on various occasions: first, to the disciples on their way to Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-35), second, to the disciples in the absence of Thomas (Jn 20:19) then in the presence of Thomas (Jn 20:26) followed by the apparition at Tiberius (Jn 21:1). John specifies the Tiberius apparition as the third one (Jn 21:14), whereas it should have stood at 4th place, counting from the Emmaus apparition.

My question therefore is: Did John the Evangelist make a mistake in counting in order, the post-resurrection apparitions of Jesus? What does the Catholic Church say about such a prospect?

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I am unaware of any specific statement by the Catholic Church on this question.

It's possible that this could be interpreted as a mistake, but I think there's a simpler solution:

What is the inner circle of Jesus' closest disciples called?

  • In the Synoptics they are usually "the twelve"
  • Luke 6:13 is likely the earliest reference indicating that the twelve were also called "apostles"
  • John calls them "disciples"

So applying John's terminology consistently, I see John 21:14 calling out that this was the third appearance to the apostles as a group.

John himself acknowledges this wasn't the third appearance in the absolute sense--he records the appearance to Mary Magdalene, who certainly was a disciple in the general sense of the word; just not an apostle.

Putting the Gospels together, we have appearances to:

  1. Mary Magdalene
  2. Mary the mother of James & Joses, Joanna, Salome (and possibly others)
  3. Peter
  4. Cleopas and his companion (could be before #3)
  5. 10 of the original apostles (Thomas absent, Judas absent and possibly dead), plus possibly others
  6. 11 of the original apostles (Thomas now present, Judas absent and probably dead)
  7. The appearance at the Sea of Tiberius

(The timing of the appearance to James (aka James the Just) is unknown; this theory would suggest that the appearance to 500+ (as recorded by Paul in 1 Cor 15) probably happened after the appearance at the Sea of Tiberius)

I've bolded the appearances to the apostles as a group, and the Sea of Tiberius is indeed #3 on the list.

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My recommendation to you is not to overthink this. Perhaps John was simply not aware of Jesus's appearance to Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple on their way to Emmaus. Luke was aware, however, and he included the appearance (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of course) when he wrote his Gospel.

Remember, a basic rule of hermeneutics regarding the interpretation of the four Gospels (particularly Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the "synoptic" Gospels) is that four authors have different perspectives, based on such things as a) their purpose in writing; b) their sometimes unique experiences vis a vis the life of Jesus; and, of course, c) their being led by the Holy Spirit in what they write, whether, for example, to include or not to include a story or a detail.

By the way, your use of the word apparition is unfortunate in my opinion. A better word is appearance, since an apparition is a ghostly figure or spectre. Jesus's appearance to Thomas, for example, was definitely not an apparition, given that Jesus encouraged Thomas to touch his wounds from having been crucified. Thomas could not touch the wounds of an apparition!

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  • Thanks. To my knowledge, the word ghost by itself does not denote evil. We call the Holy Spirit also as Holy Ghost, don't we? – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan May 3 at 12:30
  • In modern English "ghost" and "apparition" both carry connotations of occult practice, which is why we use "Holy Spirit" nowadays. The usage "Holy Ghost" is largely left over from the KJV, which was written 400 years ago when ghost meant the same as spirit does now. – DJClayworth May 3 at 13:20
  • Is it possible that by the word 'disciples ' John meant apostles ? The woman to whom Jesus first appeared after resurrection, was also a disciple, was she not ? That would mean John excluded non-apostolic disciples from the list of Jesus' close followers when he referred to the appearances. – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan May 3 at 13:31
  • It's also possible that John simply decided not to record certain events. He openly admits at the end of his gospel that he has been selective in what he writes.We have to remember that unlike our age, where it is a trivial to write down and distribute everything we want someone to know, in Biblical times it required real effort to add even a few sentences to a document. – DJClayworth May 3 at 15:04

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